How and When to Harvest Butternut Squash

EXPLORING HOW AND WHEN TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Butternut squash (Cucurbita Moschata) is a winter squash known for its sweet and nutty flavour just like a pumpkin. It is also known as butternut pumpkin or gramma in Australia and New Zealand. It has tan-yellow skin and orange flesh with seeds inside the skin.

Apart from being tasty, it is healthy too. It contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. It is a good source of provitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium, and manganese. The minerals like iron, niacin, potassium, and beta carotene, found in the fruit, convert to Vitamin A in the body. It is low in calories having a high fibre content making it a portion of ideal diet food.

Despite being a fruit, people generally use it as a vegetable for culinary purposes in dishes ranging from soups to pies. People around the world use it in both sweet and salty recipes owing to its unique flavour.

It is possible to store butternut squash harvest throughout the winter and spring without canning or freezing. But for this, you should properly harvest and store them. So, let us find the answers to two important questions while harvesting the crop.

  1. When to Harvest Butternut Squash
  2. How to Harvest Butternut Squash

 

WHEN TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

WHEN TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH
WHEN TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Apart from the procedure, timings also play a crucial role in determining the quality of the harvest. It is very important to know about the right time to harvest a crop. In the case of Butternut Squash too, it is crucial to know how to determine the correct time to harvest.

So, let us look at the various maturity signs, right time, and the weather for harvesting Butternut Squash.

MATURITY SIGNS

There are a lot of indicators that show clearly when the crop is ready to harvest. Some of them are Primary indicators while others are secondary. 

Let us look at the various indicators showing that the crop is mature.

Primary Factors

There are some main indicators that show the maturity of the crop. In the case of butternut squash, they are hardness and colour of the fruit, changes in stems, ground spots and the disappearing green lines. Now, let us learn more about them one by one.

1) Hardness of Shell

Check the toughness of the shell. The outer layer of the fruit must be hard enough to resist piercing with the nails. 

Check the crop by trying to scratch and puncture the skin of the fruit with fingernails. If the outer layer has attained the required hardness, it shows that the fruit is fully ripe. If you can puncture the shell, it means the crop is not ripe yet, So, it is better to leave them and wait for some time to harvest.

2)Colour of the Squash

One of the signs of maturity is the change in the colour of the fruit. The squash becomes deep tanned like the colour of peanut from the light green colour. Check the crop for the change in colour. If a deep colour develops, it shows that the crop is ready to harvest. Still, if the fruits bear a greenish colour, it is better to wait more for harvesting.

3)Stems

When the plant matures, the stems start to dry and wither. The stalks of the plant become brown and crack from green and tender. It indicates that the nutrients are not transferring to the fruit now since the maturity has attained. So, keep a check on the stems. If they tend to show the above-mentioned characteristics, go for harvesting!

4) Ground spot

The ground spot made by fruit also shows that it is fully ripe. A ground spot appears where the fruit is resting on the ground. The ground spot is of different colours in case of the varieties. Orange or yellow patches form in case of dark coloured squashes like corn or turbin. White patches appear in case of lighter-skinned squashes like butternut. 

See for the spots, if they appear, go for harvesting after checking the other signs, otherwise, wait!

5)Fading of lines

Keep an eye on the fruit. When the fruit grows on a vine there are a few green lines on it which start to disappear once they attain maturity. If green lines are still visible on the fruits, it is better to let them ripe before harvest.

-Secondary Factors

Apart from the mentioned signs, there are some secondary factors too that we should keep in mind. 

Let us know about them in detail.

1) Length of the Squash

Depending upon the variety, butternut squash is generally mature when it reaches a length of 8 to 12 inches. However, it depends on the soil type and other factors too. So, planters should check the length to get an idea that the harvest time is near.

2)Size Monitoring

Another way to know when the crop is mature is to keep an eye on the fruit size. You do not need to measure the size but observe the growing patterns to check when the fruit stops growing further. When the fruit stops growing, it indicates that the crop is mature. So, go for harvesting!

3)Appearance of the fruit 

The squashes have a dull appearance but full colour when they fully ripen. A shiny skin shows that you should allow the plant to mature for more time. So, keep an eye over the surface of the fruits to know more about the harvest time.

4)The date on the seed packet

Another way to get a rough estimate of the harvest date is to check the packet of the seeds. The fruits will not be ready at the exact mentioned time. The maturity time depends upon other factors like climate and soil too. 

The date gives an idea about the average harvest time. The growers must be ready to harvest once the maturity date is near.

5)Sound of the fruit

When you tap the fruits lightly, they must sound hollow. It is a good sign that the crop is ripe. If you cannot feel that it is better to let the crop mature for a few more days.

BEST WEATHER TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Remember to harvest the crop before the first hard frost where the temperature might get down to 28° F for more than a couple of hours. The frost can kill the plant. It damages the fruits too that leads to rotting in storage. 

If you are unable to harvest before the frost, remember to cover squash with tarp or old blankets. Some people even say that it is easier to harvest after a light frost. The leaves collapse, so the fruits are visible.

It is better to harvest on a sunny day to avoid the yield from getting wet. The moisture makes the harvest susceptible to rotting during the storage. If the fruits are damp, then do not forget to dry them properly before storage.

If the weather forecasts show rainy showers, you can place some bricks or wooden boards under the fruits to avoid them getting damp. If the plants soak water, it is better to dry them off before storage.

BEST MONTHS TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

If you planted the butternut squash in summer, the best time to harvest is from October to November. If the planting period started in September, you should pick the fruits by autumn or early winter.

The crop usually takes three to four months to get fully mature.

IMPORTANCE OF THE RIGHT HARVEST TIME

The harvest time is a significant aspect of any harvest procedure. The yield quality may be worse in case of both early and late harvest.

1)Early Harvest

If you pick the fruits too early, then the texture of the fruit will be too firm. It will have a bland taste. The mature fruits taste much better than the unripe ones.

2) Late Harvest

If you fail to harvest on time, then the fruit will become mushy. The crop may ruin too due to cold and humidity.

ADDITIONAL TIPS 

When you have a frost in your way, it is tough to decide whether to have an unripe crop or let it stay. Let us discuss what is an ideal solution.

  • If weather forecasts show a frost, and the crop is unripe, it would be better to harvest unripe squashes rather than losing them. You can eat immature fruits. They would be less sweet and would not last long in storage. So, use them right away.
  • If you know the expected frost time and have a few days in hand; you can increase the speed of the maturation process of the plant. To speed up the growth, cut the growing tips of the vines.

HOW TO HARVEST BUTTERNUT SQUASH

Once you know when to harvest Butternut Squash, the next step would be to know How to harvest them. Let us see what it takes for a good harvest!

  • It is advisable not to twist and pull the fruits from the plant. They can get damaged. In case you accidentally pull the fruit without the stem, it will rot faster in storage.
  • The correct way to harvest the crop is by cutting the squash from the vine using a pair of garden shears or scissors. Leave a few inches of stem attached to the fruit to avoid rots. The wounds may invite microorganisms.
  • Wipe the dirt off the fruit with a damp cloth rather than washing them. In case you wash them, then do not forget to air dry well before storage to avoid rotting.
  • Handle the fruits gently to avoid bruises. Never hold the fruit by its step as it may break.
  • Consume the damaged or bruised squashes quickly, such fruits do not store well. If you detach the whole stem of the fruit, do not keep them in storage, use them as soon as possible. 
  • You may use the overripe squashes and those which have insect damage for compost.

CURING BUTTERNUT SQUASH

After harvesting the crop, curing is an essential step to get the best taste of the fruits. Some planters believe it is unnecessary, on the other hand, some say it is a mandatory one. 

Curing allows the flavour of the fruit to reach its peak sweetness. It also hardens the skin of the fruit letting us store them for longer durations. Once, you cure the squashes; you can store the fruits well up to six months, some varieties even stay fresh till a year.

-LOCATION 

Allow the harvested fruits to sit in the sun for seven to ten days. If weather forecasts show frost, then bring the harvest to a warm and dry place inside. A Greenhouse, polytunnel, or warm closets work well for the purpose.

An ideal temperature is around 70 F. (20 C.). Sometimes, the insects attack the harvest if left to cure outdoors, so in that case, store the harvest at room temperature.

STORING BUTTERNUT SQUASHES

After the curing is over, the next step is to store the fruits properly to keep them for a longer time.

-IDEAL PLACE TO STORE 

  • Store the squashes in a cool and dry place. A temperature of 40-50 F./4-10 C would be ideal. Required humidity is 50 to 70 per cent. 
  • Locations such as a basement, a root cellar, or a garage work well for the purpose.
  • Never freeze the fruits. The frozen squashes do not store well. 

-ADDITIONAL STORAGE TIPS

  • You can store the harvest in a box, basket, tubs, or crates too if no specified location is available.
  • Do not pile the fruits in a box or a basket. Keep the squashes in a single layer on a crate or box. 
  • Keep room for air circulation. Do not let the fruits touch each other or pile over to avoid them from rotting.
  • Keep checking the stored squashes for any spoilage. Remove the spoilt ones promptly since they can spoil others too.
  • The squashes last for only 14 days at room temperature if you do not store them at ideal locations.
  • Another way to keep the squashes away from pests is to make a puree and then store them. Peel the fruits, chop them in small pieces and boil until they are soft. Make a mash or puree. Freeze it in an airtight container for up to six months.
  • You can also make soup from the squash and store it for future use.

Also, Read- When to Harvest Watermelon 

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